By the time we left Sorrento, we hadn’t really been paying much attention to the whole Pope election process. I checked the night before we left and one hadn’t been chosen yet. The drive from Sorrento to Rome took about 3.5 hours, because we stopped for lunch at a rest stop and there was some traffic getting into the city. Turning in the van was uneventful (woo-hoo!), and we grabbed a taxi from Termini Station to the apartment. The taxi ride was 10€ for three of us and it only took about 10 minutes to get there. We could have taken the bus, but I think the taxi was definitely worth it. We chitchatted with the driver on the way there and he filled us in on the Pope events and showed us a few nice places to eat.
Checking into the apartment was a breeze and it was clean and beautiful. It had a strange layout with only one real bedroom and two lofted rooms, but it worked. The neighborhood was great. There were tons of restaurants, a supermarket close by, and it was right across the bridge from the Castel Sant’ Angelo and the Vatican. It ended up being my favorite apartment of the entire trip.
After checking out our surroundings and getting our bearings, we made a run to the supermarket and cooked up a delicious dinner with lots and lots of wine. We were just about to finish dinner and someone who had been checking their phone yelled out, “White smoke! There’s white smoke coming out of the chapel!” So we did what anyone would do in that situation, we got dressed at warp speed and ran our asses down to St. Peter’s Square. Literally. I thought maybe we would be the only crazy people running over there, but as I looked across the other bridges to the Vatican I saw swarms of people doing the same thing. And of course, what else would a bunch of grown adults from NJ do, but chant, “U-S-A….U-S-A!” all the way there.
St. Peter’s Square filled up quickly and a light mist had started to fall down on the crowd. It had basically been raining nonstop for the past few days. The balcony where the new Pope would be revealed was all decked out in crimson drapery and the tension and excitement in the crowd was palpable. Now, being from the Philly area, I know a thing or two about being in a crowd of rowdy sports fans and being pushed and shoved a bit, but the crowd in St. Peter’s was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Everyone was considerate, polite, quiet even, and even though we most likely didn’t all speak the same language, everyone was being respectful. Looking back at the coverage of the event on the news and the chopper shots from above, it looks like a massive sea of wall to wall people, but in the moment I really didn’t feel like there were that many people there or that we were in that tight.
It was about 20 minutes before the lighting on the balcony kicked on and at that point, the crowd fell silent. When the Pope stepped out the crowd erupted in cheers and the flash of cameras. We were too far away to see who was elected, but when Pope Francis was announced, the crowd erupted in cheers again. Pope Francis said a few words and then everyone joined in the Lord’s Prayer with him. Afterwards the rain stopped, and from that point until the end of the trip we had beautiful, clear skies and warm weather.
After that, the Pope went back inside the Vatican and the crowd started to scatter. I saw Anderson Cooper and grabbed a quick picture of him before one of his interviews.
A New York TV station interviewed me, but I don’t think it aired. Overall, the whole experience was surreal, and it was difficult to take it all in at the moment. The fact that we had just gotten to Rome that day made me think that it was almost meant to be.
Before our trip, we made reservations online to see the Vatican the second day of our trip. I worried that it would be too crowded with the Pope just being elected, but it actually wasn’t that bad. We had a 10am reservation and despite what the website says, we were able to pay with a credit card. The Vatican was amazing; so many beautiful paintings and sculptures. It took us 4 hours to walk through. I loved that you could take pictures of pretty much everything. Unfortunately, the Sistine Chapel was still closed because of the conclave, so we’ll just have to go back to see inside.
After our tour of the Vatican we stopped and had lunch at a sandwich shop, Duecento, recommended in one of our travel books. Let me just warn you that the experience here is a little hectic, and there’s always a huge crowd, but the sandwiches are so, so worth it. We made several trips here during our time in Rome. I was just daydreaming about these sandwiches the other day. They’re good enough to make me want to go back. Around the corner there’s a crepe shop that had decent crepes. No one can match the crepes we had in Venice, though.
We ended up buying the Roma Pass at a stand next to the Castel Sant’ Angelo. Afterwards, we took a leisurely walk around the Castel, but decided not to go in because of a few lackluster reviews in our travel books. The view from the outside and on the bridge are spectacular though, and a great opportunity for pictures. Ignore the mustached dude who photobombed my shot. Who knows why he’s wearing a letterman jacket at his age. The world will never know!
We decided to do the night walk recommended in one of our books and then eat dinner at a place on the way. It took us through the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. I really enjoyed the walk and I think that Trevi and the Pantheon were my favorite parts. Although, the pictures at night didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped they would. I downloaded a free audio tour from a Rick Steves app of the Pantheon and it was totally worth it, very informative, and did I mention FREE?! It was a little slow, but you’re able to fast forward through parts of it.
We had dinner at a restaurant called Sacro e Profano that was near the Trevi Fountain. It was a little hard to find, but after a few minutes of wandering around we found it tucked down a little alley. The food was really good and decently priced. The restaurant used to be an old church, so some of the paintings and the organ are still there. After dinner we got some gelato, of course, at Alice Gelato near the Spanish Steps and it was the closest tasting to my favorite, Corona’s Café in Florence.
Next up, Days 3 and 4 in Rome: the Coliseum, Campo di Fiore, St. Peter’s, and climbing the stairs to St. Peter’s Dome.
Have you been to Rome? Did you like the sights or the food better?